Planning a trip to Europe can be overwhelming, especially if you want to visit multiple countries. And when it comes to booking accommodations, whether you're interested in staying in a hotel or a rental, making the right choice is imperative, as your vacation lodgings will determine where you rest and relax, as well as your proximity to top attractions and activities.
According to HomeAway, which offers more than 2 million vacation rentals around the world, demand for vacation home rentals is up this summer in major cities such as London, Rome and Paris, each up at least 50 percent or more in bookings. Still, there are many components that factor into the lodging decision-making process, from available amenities to pricing. If you're contemplating an alternative accommodation option, here's a primer on the pros and cons of vacation rentals and hotels to help you narrow down your options.
If You Want to Live Like a Local, Opt for a Vacation Rental
While hotels across Europe may offer all the comforts of home, staying in an apartment or vacation rental in your destination can offer travelers a more authentic and hyper-local experience. "Home rentals are the perfect way to feel connected to a community, you can live as though you are a resident, not a tourist, and get much better insight into the local area," says Nichola West of GlobalMouseTravels.com, who lives in Bath, England, and has stayed in a number of vacation rentals with her family of five.
Plus, many apartments come with kitchens, allowing visitors to prepare meals at home and interact with locals while shopping at vibrant area markets for goods and, as a result, meet the locals and begin to understand how they live daily life. "We love visiting supermarkets overseas, farmers markets and public transport, and it's the best way to meet local people – all of which you're much more likely to do if you're in an apartment rather than a hotel, which can have everything you need included," West says.
If Your Prioritize the Comforts of Home, Book a Hotel Room
While rental apartments may provide a more authentic stay, they can also require a bit more work on the part of the guest. Some cleanup is expected versus housekeeping services and some conveniences might not be available. For example, you can't call the front desk to find the nearest pharmacy or get a recommendation from the hotel concierge for dining options based on your location.
If you're visiting somewhere for the first time, hotels can also offer an added sense of safety and comfort, and provide amenities and preferred and familiar cuisine options. "Hotels are the right choice for the risk-averse [traveler] or when you really need concierge service," says Julia Slatcher of Inspire World Travel, who has stayed in more than 20 vacation rentals throughout Europe with her family.
In many European countries, for example, breakfast is skimpy and light with no eggs in sight, but at a hotel that caters to Americans, you are more likely to find a full American-style breakfast, as well as have access to knowledgeable and attentive hotel staff who can direct you to top points of interest in the destination you are visiting.
At the Hotel Indigo Paris Opera in Paris, for example, employees are on hand to assist with everything from the nearest laundry service options to recommendations for getting in a shorter line to go to the top of the Eiffel Tower.
If You Value Space, Pick a Rental
Vacation rentals may be more spacious than hotel rooms, which are notoriously small in Europe. This can be helpful for families, allowing parents and children to each have their own rooms. Many vacation rentals also offer added features such as washing machines and dryers to help keep clothes clean on longer trips. West says she's even come across child-friendly options such as baskets of books, toys, as well as bikes and scooters that are available to use, making vacation rentals an ideal choice for those traveling with youngsters in tow.
Factor in the Check-In Process
Check-in at a hotel is also typically a quicker, easier process than a vacation rental. If you just want to get to your accommodations and crash, a hotel may be the best choice.
With vacation rentals, you may need to coordinate with the host who meets you at the property, though sometimes interactions with the host are priceless, Slatcher says. "Interaction with local hosts can add a really special element, like our Croatian host who told us moving stories from the war," she explains.
Other vacation rentals may have lockboxes that hold the keys with a combination provided. Additionally, they typically come with physical keys versus digital or plastic keys at hotels, making keeping track of your key essential. Losing the physical keys can cost you a pretty penny to replace, and present a major hassle in a foreign country.
Compare Costs to Determine the Lodging Pick That's Best for Your Budget
While you will need to put in extra legwork and conduct plenty of research, it is often possible to find vacation rentals that are cheaper than hotels and are filled with local character and charm. In fact, Melanie Fish, HomeAway's family travel expert, says vacation home rentals provide about twice the space for half the cost per person compared to a hotel room.
For example, HomeAway lists an apartment in Tuscany's medieval San Gimignano town that dates to the 12th century, sits on one of the main piazzas, offers picturesque views of the Tuscan countryside and even includes a fun loft area ideal for kids. The apartment also boasts two bathrooms, a full kitchen, dining room, living room and two bedrooms in addition to the loft for only about $260 per night. HomeAway also has multiple European castles where guests can stay the night.
Additionally, choosing a larger, more expensive vacation rental can be a good value when traveling with a larger group of people compared with paying for multiple hotel rooms. Vacation rentals often charge a cleaning fee, however, as well as require a deposit, so those additional costs should be considered.
Slatcher says they have been able to find rentals with amenities that may cost a lot more at a hotel, including balconies, pools and parking. "When you also calculate the savings of not paying for parking, not paying resort fees and not eating out every meal, the value of a HomeAway [property] is exceptional," Fish says.
Consider Payment and Deposits
Paying for vacation rentals is more complicated than going online and booking a room with your credit card. Owners typically require you to fill out a rental agreement, provide a deposit, and upon check-in at places in Italy, provide your passport (per government regulations).
With companies like HomeAway, you can choose to pay through their systems, to ensure you submit your payment information securely. HomeAway also offers a Book with Confidence Guarantee when booking through their systems that protects your payments and deposits against fraud, phishing and improper representation of a property and assists with rebooking should your rental be canceled.
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